I've been back in the game for about a year now, and getting involved with a good corp has made life a lot easier, but I remember how hard it was to grind when I renewed my subscription after four or five years away. Back before I got a new job and moved to a new continent, I'd been in a small corp that had done some low-sec and null-sec mining and manufacturing operations, so I'd ended up with one jump clone way out in null-sec, some scattered assets all over the place, and for some reason I couldn't even remember, I was parked in a dead-end 0.6 system deep in Gallente space with a mining-fit Exequeror, a Vexor, an Iteron Mark V, a few million ISK, a pile of unallocated skill points, no corp, and no idea of where to go.
So I did what any number of newbies do when they don't have a clue.
I started drilling.
Now, back when I'd first signed up, there hadn't been any such things as mining barges, so that was my first clue that things had changed - there was a specialized ship for doing what I was doing, more efficiently, but I needed a new set of skills for it, and those skills cost money, and the barge would cost more money ... so I had to start out small. Drill with the Exequeror, refine down the ore, and maybe make invest in a blueprint or two.
For a while, I made ISK by making medium-sized antimatter charges, and it was enough to scrape by, invest in a destroyer to run some missions and hopefully improve my financial status some more. I didn't know any better, and since I'd been signed in way back when, I didn't even have the benefit of the tutorials until I finally got around to running career agent missions.
So I drilled. I got can-flipped. I drilled some more. I bought cargo expanders that turned out to be in Rancer, got my destroyer ganked at a gate camp while trying to pick them up, my pod ransomed for 75 million - several times my total worth - and got podded when I was too slow to respond. And I drilled some more.
I wasn't sure what I wanted to do ... and then I saw a bunch of people roll into my belt, in mining barges and a big mothership-type boat that "Show Info" identified as an Orca. I was worried that these guys - who were obviously well-organized - would roll over me for mining in their patch, but when I checked their info, it seemed they were open to new applicants. I convo'd the guy in the Orca - or maybe he was in one of the Hulks - explained I was sort of at odds, looking to join a corp, and lo and behold, I was accepted.
The corp got hit with a war declaration something like a week later, if I recall.
But the point was, up until then, I'd needed some way to build up reserves for the inevitable combat, some way to keep my head above water. Mining and manufacturing was it - and I wasn't someone in a max-yield Hulk; I was really a newbie all over again, scraping by. I was a high-sec miner because that was what I was able to do.
And I was providing goods that people needed - why else would anyone buy the ammunition I was running off?
I know that null-sec and wormholes are where the real money's supposed to be - that people out there, sitting on twelve-figure bank accounts, with dozens of Titans and supercarriers on call, want to dictate how everyone else plays the game. I know that there are people out there who see high-sec miners as a blight, a stain on their vision of New Eden as an objectivist paradise, where the fittest prosper and can impose their will on the lesser folks.
But when you're at the bottom of the food chain, or you've been wiped out and have to start over, you need some way to start.
If I hadn't been able to mine, I'd never have gotten my foot back in the door.